In her song, Big Yellow Taxi, artist Joni Mitchell ruefully observes that we never seem to know or appreciate what we have, until after it is gone. There is a lot of truth in those words. We take so many things for granted. We never appreciate them or even think about them until they are no longer there.   

That recently became very clear to me.

Westar needed to replace a power line pole, which is located just east of our office. We were informed that we would be without power for approximately four hours. It is almost impossible to do anything at a newspaper without electricity. Our building has very few windows, so we waited impatiently in the darkness for the power to return. 

Thankfully, we were notified the day before so we could make a few preparations.

 In our production area, a power interruption can cause serious issues with some of our more sensitive pieces of equipment. An unexpected power failure often makes it necessary to reprogram those systems. The advance notice allowed us time to bring in a power generator to protect those devices. 

It was difficult to remain patient while we sat with no lights, no phones, no computers and no copy machine. The furnace was not operational, and worst of all, we could not even make coffee.

 I will admit that these are pretty simple things and having to do without them was not the end of the world. But they are things I expect to be available when I walk through the front door each morning. The hours spent without them, made me painfully aware of how important those conveniences were to me, and how unappreciative I have become. 

Eventually the power was restored and the lights came back on. The computers were once again computing, the phone was ringing and the coffee was perking. But the time spent in darkness led me to think about the other things I take for granted.  

I have a comfortable home, dependable vehicles, and plenty of food. My home is filled with so many conveniences and wonderful things that I seldom think about until one of them malfunctions. 

Taking material things for granted is one thing. Taking people for granted is quite another. I hate to admit that I have been guilty of both.

I thought about my dad and the many times I could have driven across town to visit him. But I took it for granted that he would always be around. There was always something that seemed more important and demanded my time. I always intended to spend more time with him, but unfulfilled intentions are just dust in the wind. The years went by with blinding speed, and before I knew it, dad had to be placed in a care facility. After a few months, he could no longer recognize me. Then suddenly, he was gone. 

Thirteen years have flown by since his death. 

My mother has been in a Wichita care facility for more than a year. There are many legitimate reasons why I have been unable to find time go pay her a visit. There are also a lot of very poor excuses. 

A few days ago I received a call from my sister telling me I needed to get to Wichita as soon as possible. She had been contacted by the care facility staff and informed that mom was not doing well. They advised her to gather the family together and do it quickly. 

We all jumped in our cars and headed for Wichita. Several family members had to travel for several hours, some had to drive through snow. A large crowd of people came somberly together, and then gathered in Mom’s tiny room.

She was unresponsive, and didn’t know we were there. We held vigil for more than four hours, but there was no change in her condition. We left that night wishing we could have arrived sooner and had one more chance to let her know how much we loved her. We went home expecting the worst.

The next morning, to everyone’s surprise, she was awake and talking. She became a little upset when my brother told her we had all been there the night before. She wanted to know why no one tried to wake her up. 

She is doing much better. The medical staff has warned us that she is still facing life-threatening issues. But we have been blessed with one more opportunity, and we won’t take that for granted. She’ll have a room full of her loved ones all weekend long.

We all have areas of life that are important to us.  As humans working to survive, we have things we can’t ignore and circumstances that demand our time and attention. Those situations often overwhelm and exhaust us, and one day seems to quickly flow into another. 

Before we know it, another year has passed. 

Slow down for a moment and take a look around you. Think about the many blessings that you have, and take time to appreciate them. Don’t take anything for granted, especially when it comes to the people you love. 

Don’t wait until they are gone to realize how important they are.

Make time for them, they can be gone in the blink of an eye.

CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or

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